Dare to Dream

I admit it—I’m a dreamer.  I think all authors are.  One of my recurring daydreams involves a bottomless file on my computer titled Rejections.  The file is so named because Those-Idiot-Literary-Agents-Are-Not-Smart-Enough-To-See-The-Genius-Of-My-Work seemed way too long.

In my dream, here’s what happens.  One of my books becomes a huge success, selling a hundred million copies.  Suddenly I begin to receive letters and emails from every literary agency and publisher in the country hoping to represent or publish my next book.  I’ll notify each and explain they need to follow MY guidelines if they hope to do business with me.  Each set of guidelines will be as ridiculous as they are different.

As agents and publishers respond, I’ll reply to each in a different way.  Some I’ll simply send a form letter thanking them and wishing them luck somewhere else.  Some I’ll say that it’s not them, it’s me.  (I love when I get those rejections.  It takes me back to times in my past when girlfriends dumped me.)  Some I’ll say that the quality of their company doesn’t grab my attention.  Other I will inform that their platform isn’t large enough.  You get the idea.

Of course it’s just a dream.  That never gets to happen—or does it?  I have just read a story about a famed author who indeed got to do that very thing.

In 1975, Norman Maclean’s first book, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, had received the green-light to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, a lofty publisher in New York, which is part of Knopf Doubleday Publishing at Random House.  However, after jerking Mr. Maclean around for a long time, the book was deemed unsellable and the project dropped.  Consequentially, the book was published by University of Chicago Press and became a best-seller and a major motion picture.

Six years later, Norman Maclean received a letter from Charles Elliot of Alfred A. Knopf Publishing expressing an early interest in his next book.  For a while, Mr. Maclean didn’t even realize who it was from, but when he did, he made the dream come true for a lot of us authors.  Here’s an excerpt:

“The dream of every rejected author must be to see, like sugar plums dancing in his head, please-can’t-we-see-your-next-manuscript letters standing in piles on his desk, all coming from publishing companies that rejected his previous manuscript, especially from the more pompous of the fatted cows grazing contentedly in the publishing field. I am sure that, under the influence of those dreams, some of the finest [f#@k]-you prose in the English language has been composed but, alas, never published. And to think that the rare moment in history came to me when I could in actuality have written the prose masterpiece for all rejected authors – and I didn’t even see that history had swung wide its doors to me.”

BAM!!  You go, Norman.  You are definitely one of my new heroes.  FYI—I blocked out the four-letter word above; Mr. Maclean did not.  I might not ever have the satisfaction of drafting such a letter, but it makes me feel good to know that someone has written it for all of us.  Here’s how that incredible letter ended:

“But, although I let the big moment elude me, it has given rise to little pleasures. For instance, whenever I receive a statement of the sales of ‘A River Runs Through It’ from the University of Chicago Press, I see that someone has written across the bottom of it, ‘Hurrah for Alfred A. Knopf.’ However, having let the great moment slip by unrecognized and unadorned, I can now only weakly say this: if the situation ever arose when Alfred A. Knopf was the only publishing house remaining in the world and I was the sole remaining author, that would mark the end of the world of books.”

That is so awesome.  Soon after he wrote that, Norman Maclean called it, “one of the best things I ever wrote [...] I really told those bastards off. What a pleasure! What a pleasure! Right into my hands! Probably the only dream I ever had in life that came completely true.”

I concur.  Let’s hope we all have dreams like that come true in our lives.  You can read the entire letter here:



Neal Wooten, Publisher/Indie Author/Illustrator/Cartoonist

Managing Editor; Mirror Publishing, Milwaukee, WI,
Author of Reternity,

Posted by on April 22, 2012. Filed under Books,Neal Wooten. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

20 Responses to Dare to Dream

  1. Laura Marlowe

    April 23, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Your Dare to Dream article has made my day. Bravo to you and bravo to Norman MacLean! Many see and appreciate the genius of your work, Neal; it will be a sweet day indeed when your dream becomes reality and those bunches of reply letters go out ☺ “…the pompous of the fatted cows grazing…” – brilliant, Norman, just brilliant!

  2. John L Hoh Jr ("An Angel Named Carol")

    April 23, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for sharing! The major publishers want what sells–without having to put too much effort into it. That’s why politicians can get hefty advances, because the noteriety is already there.

  3. Sandra White

    April 23, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Loved your article!! I hadn’t heard the story re: Norman MacLean before and can only imagine the pleasure he felt writing that letter. There’s no question that the editors of major Publishers are pompous and let lots of really good manuscripts adorn their waste baskets. It will be difficult to outdo the editor who threw the manuscript of the first Harry Potter book in the trash, however. I mean, really! Isn’t Rawling the only author to have made a billion dollars on her writing? I’m sure that editor is still having nightmares over what he did!!

  4. Maranda Russell

    April 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I don’t know about everyone else, but things like this make me glad I don’t deal with the literary bigwigs. In some ways I’m sure it must be nice to have a big name behind your book to back you up and gain you exposure, but I wouldn’t want to sell my soul or my integrity to do so. Hooray for Norman for standing his ground.

  5. Rebecca Fronzaglio

    April 23, 2012 at 11:45 am

    That was some letter. Good for Norman MacLean and for the rest of us he stuck up for. He had the opportunity and the nerve to do what some of us would never dare. That priviledge comes when you have alot of confidence, or money. As far as the f-bomb, Norman definately had alot of nerve doing that. That’s something that could either make or break your career. It didn’t seem to affect him one bit. Let’s face it, some people are so arrogant they need told-off. But, if I would have said that…I’d be out of business. That wouldn’t be a good thing for a children’s book author to say. To each his own…but as a Christian…I choose to bite my tongue and play it safe.

  6. Sarah Mamika

    April 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Great story, and I thoroughly enjoyed your narrative of how you would reply. What fun that would be!

  7. corey colombin

    April 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Isn’t that every rejected author’s dream? How delicious a dream it is! I often think how I would love to tell off those who have stood in rejection of my work, particularly literary agencies. Their snobbery is legendary. They have clearly forgotten that they make no money except by percentages from the hard work of authors. Hoop-jumping for literary agencies and subsequent one-lined rejections are their earmark. I’m not bitter, per se, more like harboring of a sweet dream of revenge, not unlike Mr. MacClean’s. I toast to you, Neal, a member of the honored club of rejection-holding, dream-weaving hopefuls called ‘author.’

  8. That’s my one day dream.But for now I need to chug along. Thanks for writing this article.

  9. Ruth Anne Meredith "The Lands of Forever"

    April 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    This is beautiful! *Sniff, sniff!* Oh yes, I’m crying. Thanks again for sharing something to keep us smaller (and beginning) authors confident!

  10. Natalie Starfish

    April 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    GLORIOUS! Thank you Neal. Moments like these do need sharing.

  11. Sabrynne McLain

    April 24, 2012 at 2:41 am

    Hi Neal,

    I posted your link on my FB page=)

    I’m sort of ambivalent toward the trad pub houses, but I think Norman’s story goes deeper; it’s simply down to not being treated fairly, which pisses us all off. So good for him! Oh, there was a comment about an editor passing up Harry Potter. I think I read it was a grad student on an internship or something, which means the pub house was just plain stupid letting someone with so little experience judge the fates of writers’ works. But there you go.

  12. Irma Jacobs Tirro Author of The Lonely Snowflake and It's Almost Friday

    April 24, 2012 at 5:04 am

    I read the article, stood up, and saluted Norma Maclean for his bravery and honesty. Of course I also saluted Neal for keeping us inspired and laughing.

  13. Barbara

    April 24, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Oh how I LOVE this! I have to share it. As you know, you were my savior after many rejections. I am grateful.

  14. Jen Wallis

    April 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    What a great article! Thanks for sharing and you best believe I am going to keep dreaming!

  15. Thank you for sharing this fantastic story Neal! You have given me and all of my fellow rejected writers something those big mean publishing houses cannot – HOPE! Believe, believe, believe!

  16. Fantastic article.

    I’m sure the publishers who rejected Harry Potter and Gone With The Wind felt like Charles Elliot of Alfred A. Knopf Publishing.

  17. Sandra Fishel Brandon

    April 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    I LOVED your article Neal. You could reply to the publishing companies seeking to publish your book because you are now a sought-after author, “I can only write a few books each year so I need to be extremely selective” or “I’ve reviewed your proposal but unfortunately I don’t see a place for your company in my publishing plans.” I’m sure your daydream is shared by many of us.

  18. Becca Mills

    April 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Heh, heh. Nowadays Maclean wouldn’t even have to mess around with U of Chicago P, would he? Academic presses are great, but I think indie authorship is even better :)

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